Leadership vs Management: Questions for Further Study

Answers for lasting improvement

Kelly Graves

December 6, 2017

In my career as a business consultant, I’ve helped dozens of companies surface quality issues, develop managers as well as employees, build better trust and communication, transition ownership from one generation to the next, and unleash new levels of financial performance.

I’ve worked with organizations of all different sizes, in a variety of business sectors, yet the questions I continually encounter seem to come up time and time again. Here are some of the ones that I hear regularly, along with the answers I’ve found can lead to positive results.

What’s the difference between leadership and management?

In a nutshell, leadership is focused on monthly and yearly organizational vision and strategy, whereas management is focused on departmental daily and weekly tasks as well as problem solving. Permit me to elaborate on the meanings of these two very distinct disciplines (which, nevertheless, can and do overlap when executed properly).

• Implements strategies to target and secure business opportunities
• Makes decisions based on a broad view of the external political, economic, industry, and legislative environment
• Develops long-term, focused plans to help maximize commercial success, and updates them to capitalize on developments
• Seizes opportunities to extend the breadth and depth of products and services
• Focuses on activities that will deliver the greatest long-term return on investment

• Links the activities of the department to the organization’s business strategy
• Takes responsibility and accountability for the work and performance of others
• Takes firm and decisive action when a situation requires intervention
• Coaches and reinforces those behaviors that motivate others
• Helps individuals and teams to see opportunities even when faced with obstacles and challenges


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Which is more important, leadership or management?

This is an interesting question that I wish more leaders and managers would take into consideration. Just because an organization chart has leadership at the top, managers in the middle, and employees at the bottom does not mean that any one group is more important than the others. To win in the game of business, they must all be good at their chosen profession and work in unison with the other members of the team.

For instance, for a company that machines gears for automobile transmissions, each of the members of the team must do his part to outperform the competition. To start with, the machinist must learn how a CNC machine works, how to input the information into the machining computer, and the tensile strength of different kinds of metal. The manager must be good at project management, so the raw material is ordered just in time, and parts are completed and shipped out on time as well. The executive must create the relationships with the automobile manufacturer for sales, research, and development, and properly forecast future sales of automobiles so it’s known just how many gears to produce every quarter.

How are managers different today than they were 10 or 20 years ago?

For the most part, the management philosophy of a decade or two ago was to be more autocratic using the top-down management model. Today, however, evolved managers have come to realize that they must “partner” with their employees. The manager/employee relationship must be reciprocal to achieve the economy of scale required in most industries. The competition is so fierce that true teamwork between manager and employee is a necessity and cannot be given “lip service” like it has in the past. In the future those companies that prosper will have a closer symbiotic relationship between manager and employee; if they don’t, they will fall by the wayside.

Is it possible for a great organization to deliver great products and services if it doesn’t treat employees well?

Experience has proven to me that it is impossible to create superior products and deliver superior service if a company doesn’t treat its employees well. The reason for this is that unhappy employees either willingly or inadvertently project their frustrations down the line to the customer. To make matters worse, some companies put up posters and create internal and external PR that promotes teamwork and a “family atmosphere.” When these promotions are just empty talk, or when the company doesn’t follow through on these promises, it makes employees more resentful because they know the truth, which is that the company doesn’t treat its employees as family and doesn’t promote teamwork. The empty PR helps creates an environment of distrust.

What are the most important skills that owners, managers, and employees need to develop to improve themselves and their organizations?

For owners, probably the top area in which they falter is in the lack of preparation for the next generation and creating a succession plan. Owners are typically so busy with taking care of the day-to-day operations that they don’t think about how the business will run without them or how long it will take to develop a successor. They tend to think it will take two to three years, but it actually takes one or two decades to develop not only the successor, but that person’s executive team. The next most-important skill is the ability to teach people how to make decisions and allow them the latitude to fail and learn from those failures. An owner is not doing anyone favors by reprimanding a middle manager or employee for stretching his skill set and making a mistake. Mistakes need to be approached as an opportunity to learn. Therefore, the owner needs to learn to see herself as a teacher and guide and develop the team toward excellence.

For the manager, the most important skill is in learning how to teach without telling people what to do. Describe the problem and ask for ideas on how to go about solving that problem. By telling people what to do, the manager is simply creating drones; within this dynamic, the manager is inadvertently creating a bottleneck where people are being taught not to think but simply to take orders. Once this is done long enough, the manager has created a culture of nonthinking, emotionless robots. However, when the manager allows the team members to figure out the solution for themselves, it creates an environment of people who are involved in their work, involved in making decisions, involved in making adjustments, and involved in creating a stronger and smarter workforce. Thus, the manager has created a department that no longer needs his support, and this manager can then move up the chain of command and take on more challenging duties that will further his career, as well as supercharge the growth of the organization.

Finally, employees should learn not to think of themselves as automatons who merely takes orders; rather, they should consider themselves to be problem solvers. That’s what every organization needs, more problem solvers. Most employees start out wanting to be good, hard-working team members, but many managers break their spirits and downgrade their ideas. This turns the employees into zombies waiting for the next order from the boss. This can be a very difficult position for a smart, hard-working employee who wants to excel. If you find yourself working for a tyrant, then replace that boss with a better organization—one where your talents and hard work will be noticed and rewarded.

These are just a few of the many questions that great organizations must ask and answer to achieve sustainable, continuous improvement. What are some of the questions that you want to ask to improve yourself or your organization? Write them in the “Comments” section below, and I will tackle them in an upcoming column.

About The Author

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Kelly Graves

Kelly Graves is the CEO of Internal Business Solutions, which exists to help organizations overcome their most daunting challenges. The Internal Business Solutions team understands that most, if not all, organizational problems—whether technical, financial, structural, etc.—hinge on improving human communication and processes. Contact Graves at Kelly@InternalBusinessSolutions.com or call (530) 321-5309. Click here to sign up for his free newsletter.